How to Check to Be Sure a Laptop Isn't Stolen Before Purchase

By Ed Oswald

Updated September 01, 2017

It can be easy to spot a stolen laptop, experts say.
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Check if that used laptop you're about to buy isn't stolen, as many stolen laptops end up being resold to unsuspecting consumers. Anti-theft software maker Prey says that a fifth of all the stolen devices it helps recover were found after being sold online. By asking about the owner's documentation, and examining the laptop, you might be able to determine if you're making a legitimate purchase.


Ask the buyer for documentation, such as a receipt from the original purchase. Prey notes that thieves will rarely steal the receipt and will not have any proof that they actually own the laptop. Also be sure to ask for a receipt for your own protection. This receipt should include contact information for the seller. Many legitimate sellers will have no problem with making a receipt for you.

Look for Damage

Inspect the laptop carefully for any damage that might indicate the laptop may have been forcibly removed from some type of anti-theft device. Some laptops include a lock slot, which looks like a small rounded rectangle, but is a bit smaller than a connection port. If the anti-theft cable was removed without a key, this port will show signs of damage.

Data and Passwords

Ask the seller to turn on the laptop. If the laptop asks for a password to log in, make sure the seller knows it – thieves won't. Even if there is no password, check the documents, pictures, and video folders for any data. Most sellers will delete this data before selling a computer to protect their own privacy. Don't be afraid to ask questions about any data that remains. If the seller has an odd story or doesn't appear in any of the pictures, it might be stolen.

Serial Numbers and Branding

The laptop's serial number should be clearly visible and not have any evidence of tampering. You can also ask the seller for the serial number prior to purchase, and use it to ask law enforcement or the original manufacturer if that serial number shows up as stolen in their databases. Look for any signs of branding to show ownership, such as a company logo in the wallpaper or screensaver, or stickers or etching on the laptop case indicating the laptop's original owner.